Jamis Renegade Elite 500 Hour Review

I got a Jamis Renegade Expert in May of 2015. road.cc convinced me. As they say it is an "absolute belter." 300 miles later I crashed into a downed tree bombing down a fire road at night. The frame broke at the downtube in two places and the top tube in one, but I was none the worse for wear (a few scrapes and a bruised ego). I'm glad it failed in the way that it did: it didn't snap in the way that browsing /r/bustedcarbon might lead you to expect and presumably it decreased the speed at which I superman'd over said tree (complete with a tuck and roll). Jamis, and my Eddie's Bikes & Hockey were kind of enough to get me a 2016 Renegade Elite frame for $1k. As of now I've ridden it ~500 hours, covering around 7,500 miles, and 500,000 ft. of elevation gained. It is excellent.

I've done a bit of everything on it: lots of commuting (including two PA winters sans fenders because I am a moron), several road races, a bunch of gravel/mixed surface races, a brevet, and some bikepacking. Obviously it isn't a dedicated crit racer or a relaxed tourer: versatility implies compromise, but I'd say that it is a near perfect gravel/gravé/gnarmac/groad bike.

Frame

Why can't I buy this as a frameset? What nonsense.

This frame is BURLY. Aside from the abovementioned frame-kill I've had a number of crashes from over-my-head singletrack, muddy ruts, overcooked corners, failed bunny hops, high-speed pothole encounters, ice patches, etc. I've had some high-torque chainsuck a few times (blame my mechanical ineptitude) and have just generally thrashed the hell out of this bike. It appears unperturbed. I trust it with my life regularly.

Fit-wise it has reach that is more road than cyclocross and stack that is more endurance than race (387/595mm for my 56). To lower the effective stack I've fit a longer negative stem (100mm -17°) and a Cane Creek Slamset (IS42/28.6 and IS52/40). You can also just get a slamthatstem replacement bearing cover (though the sealing isn't great). The stock headset added (I think) around 16mm of effective stack, and the slamset adds only 4.6mm. I do think the stack number given the other dimensions is a bit too high. Maybe 1-2cm lower? I guess I should have gotten a 54...

It feels rock solid at speed. I've hit 60mph on tarmac and 45+ on dirt/gravel on this bike many times. I've never had any speed wobble even when I'm sitting on the top tube. Going downill I think it is only marginally slower than my road race bike (a Giant TCR) and I think most of that is due to the bike's stack (around 4cm saddle-bar drop versus ~10cm on the TCR).

It isn't exactly rapier sharp in the corners but I think that it strikes a good balance. Maybe as a gravel/dirt racer it would benefit from being slightly more aggressive in the steering department but as a true multipurpose bike I think it is perfect. You definitely have to actively steer a bit more than a race bike. I've crashed once from under-steering for this reason (on this) and nearly so maybe once other time.

The frame is pretty stiff, at least compared to my main bike before this which was a Salsa Vaya. I'd say it is about as stiff as my TCR. The 2017+ frames have a 27.2 post rather than the 31.6 mine does which probably helps a bit, but I'd guess the tires are a more dominant factor. I may try a 27.2 post with a shim at some point but I doubt it will make that much of a difference. I guess I wish the frame was slightly more compliant, but I expect that would come at a compromise in the durability department. I can't make the fork flex enough to induce brake rub. Overall I wouldn't say that the ride is punishing, but then I run my gravel tires at like 30/35 psi and even with a 28-30mm road tire never more than about 50-55 psi.

The standards Jamis chose I think are pretty smart. BB386EVO can be adapted to fit just about any crank and the stock Enduro BB is completely bomber. I have barely touched it (checked it when I replaced the crank but that is it). I haven't had a single creak or other problem. The bearings for the stock BB have a 42mm outer diameter, 30mm inner diameter, and 7mm width: I've used the Enduro 6806 ABEC-3 bearings. The BB comes with plastic adapters for Shimano's 24mm Holowtech II axle. You can get ones for other axle sizes too (which is way more convenient than replacing the BB). They don't appear to have worn at all (the BB, adapters, and bearings until recently, are all from the Expert frame that I killed, so they are approaching 8,000 miles of neglect).

The derailleur cables are routed internally and have no internal guides. They can be pretty hard to fish through the frame if you don't slide a bit of cable inner on the old cable before you remove it. The cover on the bottom of the bb is pretty useless. All it does is serve to collect grime which eventually will corrode the bolt that holds it in. There isn't an actual cable guide on the underside of the BB. Instead what you are supposed to do is leave a small piece of cable inner on: which serves to keep the cable from getting contaminated and prevents wear on the frame. I think for a gravel bike this is more sensible design than having a naked cable go through a plastic guide which traps grime in the grooves and fowls your shifting. You can also get Di2 grommets from Jamis. The brake hose/cable for the fork is routed externally on my version which is fine. The rear cable has a sleeve (does it?) and is routed from the headtube to just in front of the caliper on the chainstay. I've never noticed any annoying rattle.

The fork has roughly 55mm of clearance at 700c, and in the rear you have about 55mm at the seat stays but only around ~45mm at the chainstay. The biggest tire I've run on the front is the WTB Riddler 45c and on the rear the biggest I've run is the WTB Nano 41c (both on an Easton R90SL rim which is 19.5mm wide internally). I think 45mm front and 40mm rear is probably the most appropriate max tire. I don't have a 27.5/650b wheelset but I suspect you would have no trouble clearing a 47mm wide tire on the front but that clearance would only be marginally better than a 700c wheel on the rear. Jamis says that the steel and aluminium models are "Road Plus" compatible (i.e. they clear a 47mm wide slick) but are clear that the carbon versions are not and when I tried to ask them whether they'd actually tried it they acted like robots and didn't answer my question.

The perfect tire for this bike is the 38mm Schwalbe G-One Speed or AR (which does in-fact measure 38mm wide on a 19.5mm internal width rim). The rolling resistance is near that of the Pro One (they use the same compound), they are reasonably light, and apparently impervious to just about all terrain. I've had one flat (on a worn down tire) since I've had this bike and I am not a careful rider. Jamis! Use this tire!

I really appreciate that this bike has fender mounts (what a baller winter bike). They are a bit weird though. They are removable and thread into inserts at the back end of the dropouts and the bottom of the fork. You need extra long stays for the fork and spacers to push the fender tabs far enough out that the stays clear the dropouts. I also dremel'd out the mounting tab for the seat stays to pull the fender further away from the tire. I've run 38mm Schwalbe G-One AR tires with PDW fenders on an Easton R90SL rim with enough clearance that I survived OMTM's Hell of the North Plains v3 (see the video: it was grimy). I wouldn't go bigger without better clearance, but clearly a bigger fender won't fit in the rear. If PDW made a 700c x 50mm fender I'd run that in the front with a Schwalbe G-One Bite for winter dirt. I think they said they were going to do that...

Current status.

The stock thru-axles that come with the Expert are less than stellar (heavy and the camming device began slipping within a few months despite repeated re-tightenings). I replaced the front one with a DT Swiss number and the rear with one from the Robert Axle Project. The TA you want for the rear 12 x 142mm axle is 174mm long and has a thread pitch of 1.75mm. The axle length on the front is 125mm and thread pitch is 1.5mm.

The 2017+ versions come with mount points for a low-rider front rack in addition to the mounts for the rear rack. These mounts ought to be restricted to the steel and aluminium alloy versions. Bikepacking style bags work great on this bike. The inner triangle is huge and can take a gigantic framebag (a decision consideration on the Salsa Cutthroat). If we are going to have mounts on the fork they ought to be placed to support a rack for a rando bag.

Stages powermeters clear the chainstay without issue. It seems like they could push the chainstays a bit further apart without comprimising heel/crankarm clearance. It would be nice to have 50mm of clearance front and rear.

Drivetrain and Brakes

The 2016 Expert frame came with TRP Hy/Rd brakes and a 105 5800 drivetrain with a compact crank and an 11-32 on the rear. These brakes are ok but are not really comparable to fully hydraulic brakes in terms of lever effort. 105 5800 shifts flawlessly like basically all of Shimano's stuff. The long-swing arm Shimano front derailleurs (e.g. 5800, 6800, & 9000) do not shift very well on this frame though. The angle of the hole where the front derailleur's cable exits the frame doesn't allow enough leverage (even with the cable routed correctly using their guide tool). The newer 9100/8000/7000/5801 series front derailleurs don't have this problem.

An 11-32t cassette (at least with 50-34 up front) doesn't give (me: for reference I can do 4w/kg for 20 min at the moment) low enough climbing gears for gravel/dirt (especially with camping/touring/long distance gear aboard or when I don't want to work that hard or grind). Shimano now offers an 11-34 cassette with the r8000 group and I don't know why Jamis didn't spec that on the 2018 Renegade Elite. It seems very strange to me that people think that 34/32 is low enough for this bike's intended use. I mean look at this and compare gearing options. If it is unclear why you'd want to ride up something that gnarly: this is why.

I want to use Shimano chainrings (no to Praxis, though others disagree) so I think the best choice as far as drivetrain is concerned (and I realize this is fitness/terrain dependent) would be to either use the aforementioned 11-34 r8000 cassette if that is enough, and if not, to use a Wolftooth Tanpan and a Shimano MTB rear derailleur from the m9/8/7000 series. With the SGS version of these MTB RD you can run up to an 11-42t cassette with 16t difference between the front chainrings. I think a double is clearly superior to 1x for (g)road (when you have a FD that works well anyway). You get more range, smaller gaps, less noise, a better chainline, and you can still have a clutch RD (along with a built in chain-guide). FD aren't hard to tune if you can RTFM. The Roadlink is not a real solution in my opinon. While it is true that a road RD will generally not clear a 40t cog without the cassette rubbing the upper jockey wheel (which the RoadLink does solve) it does not fix the derailleur capacity problem, which results in sloppy shifting across the smaller cogs in the cassette, more chainslap and thus a higher probability of dropping the chain. A great solution would be if Wolftooth made a replacement cage for road RDs like they do for Shimano MTB RDs. I understand why Jamis wouldn't spec a non-standard component like the Tanpan but an 11-34 ought to be stock on the newest model-year Elite, which is equipped with r8000. Also Shimano should make sub-compact chainrings.

Now that r7000 (new 105) has hydraulic brakes I don't think there is any reason for the hybrid mechanical/hydraulic brakes. Hydros are superior in every sense. I have the older non-series rs685/br785 levers/calipers which work very well but don't look quite as nice as the r9150/8050/7050 stuff, but only the 2017+ Renegade frames are flat mount (really can't belive Shimano decided to produce only flat mount, very irritating).

Wheels and Tires

The 2016 Expert came with some Alex wheels. They are heavy and narrow but otherwise fine. The whole "rotational weight is more important" thing is apparently total BS. Although wide rims are fashionable these days I haven't actually seen any data on any improvements that might result other than from aerodynamics, and in the aerodynamics department the widest tire that has a deep and appropriately wide rim (the ENVE 4.5 AR Disc) is 28mm (though 30mm actually on this rim).

The 2016+ Elites come with American Classic MTB wheels which by all accounts I've read are pretty nice. Since American Classic is now defunct I am curious what Jamis will put on the 2019 models. A 28/32h 30mm alloy rim with a DT Swiss 240 or 350 hub would be a good choice (with a 36t star ratchet on the rear). It would also be cool if they made a "limited" balleur version with di2 and some carbon finishing kit + wheels.

The frame I have has a 15mm TA for the fork which was great in that it allowed interoperability with MTB wheels pre-boost spacing. The newer 12mm, like flat mount, offers no advantages that I can see. You can get Son 28 with centerlock rotor mounts though, which is nice. With 15mm you are stuck with 6-bolt mounts.

The stock Clement/Donnely MSO tires are fine but Schwalbes G-One are better. Probably the best all-round wheel/tire combo for me would be a superlight XC wheelset with a 38mm G-One AR, Speed, or Bite. I plan on buying this Light-Bicycle wheelset (which is pretty similar to the ENVE M50/525) at some point.

As I hinted I have also run the ENVE 4.5 AR disc wheelset. These wheels are ridiculous. Not that they feel crazy fast or anything (I think you are fooling yourself if you think you can feel a big difference): mainly how borgeois they make me look. They don't look too anemic on the frame but are hardly tukt (which is apparently a bit a hit in the drag department, but absent a dropped chainstay: necessary for tire clearance). With these wheels I think the bike is pretty great for smashing cobbles, awful tarmac, moderately gnarly gravel, and real long rides/races where a road race fit would be less than great (brevets and ultra races I guess) and discs are appreciated. Clearly rider position matters much for aerodynamics than wheels do, but wheels aero wheels can seemingly make a decent difference when you are eating wind for a long time.

Weights

This could be a pretty light gravel bike if you wanted to go wild. I bet I could hit 17ish lbs w/ pedals and cages without comprimising its usability.

In fast road-mode With the ENVE 4.5 AR/DT 240 wheelset with Pro One 28mm front and G-One Speed 30mm rear it weighs 19.5 lbs. With the Pacenti wheelset w/ DT 350 hubs, in winter mode with 35mm G-One Speeds (also SLX rather than XTR rotors) and PDW fenders it weighs in at 21.5 (fenders with buddy flaps are 1.3 lbs), and in gravel-mode with Easton R90SL/DT 350 wheels (w/ XTR rotors) and 38mm G-One AR tires it weighs 20.5.

To lose another 2-3 pounds you'd basically need more Dura-Ace/XTR, a super-light XC wheelset, and lighter finishing kit. A smaller frame would also help. Road pedals/shoes would also be lighter (and really how often do you walk on your rides?). I kind of want to see if I can make this thing around 17 lbs (and me < 160) but that would be stupid. I won't let that stop me.